#writing a novel – Should you write for an audience? #wwwblogs #Iamwriting

It’s almost a year since I wrote this post – and I still don’t know the answer (and I’m still almost nowhere with the WIP!). So do you write with a specific reader in mind?

When I started researching and jotting down ideas for this post, I was pretty certain that the gist would be to help fellow writers to think about just who they were writing for – who their audience was. After all, what’s the point of writing if you don’t have an audience, people to read your book, to buy your book, to recommend your book to other people? That’s the whole reason we write, isn’t it? To share our stories with people who will enjoy them?

So I thought about the audience I’d had in mind when I began writing The Black Hours. And I realised that I hadn’t had anyone in mind at all. I’d simply had a story in my head that I wanted to write down. Yes, I wanted it published, yes, I wanted people to read it, but I certainly hadn’t thought to myself – this is a novel that will go down well with Mrs Smith at number 27, or the postman. Had I done the whole thing wrong? Should I have been thinking about my target audience before I began to write?

target-audience.jpg

As I so often do, I turned to Google to see if I had been doing things wrong again. And it turns out that apparently I have. There’s a raft of articles about thoroughly researching your audience. Some suggest visualising your book for sale and then analysing the people buying it. What do they look like? What are their hobbies? What do they do for a living?

Now, I do think it’s important to have your reader in mind when you write- at least to a certain degree – particularly if you are writing for children or young adults. But does anyone really work it out to this extent?

Yes, I have readers in mind when I’m writing, and yes I have my clients’ readers in mind when I’m editing – usually I’m thinking, will people understand that bit, will they follow that plot point etc. But when I write, and when I’m editing, the story comes first. Afterwards, I might think about who would enjoy it, what they would expect to see, etc. For example, with historical fiction, I know readers will expect the details to be accurate. And ‘The Black Hours’ is pretty dark, so my audience certainly won’t be readers of historical romance or chick lit fans. But the story comes first. Otherwise I’m writing to a formula, and surely that’s not great for me or my readers.

So, I’m left in a quandary really. And certainly no wiser than when I began to write this post. Internet experts say that I should have a target audience in mind, that it will focus my writing and increase my chances of success. After all, a publisher needs to know who to market to, and if I self-publish then I’ll need to sort my categories on Amazon. I can see the wisdom in that (although my WIP is set in three different times, has one real figure from history and one sort of mythological figure and a great deal of stuff about painting and Romanticism- not sure what genre I’m going to stick that one in). But should a story that’s going round my head change to fit a certain genre? Should I alter a character to suit some idea of a potential ‘customer’ in my head? Or should I be true to my story?

What do you think?

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21 comments

  1. Great post, Alison. If it’s any help I know precisely who my target audience is. Me! Started my career on holiday after throwing books I’d brought to read across the room.
    Just finished designing my new cover too … looks like the cover of a Roxy Music album. Target audience … you guessed it!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Adrienne. I’ve thrown plenty of books too! Actually couldn’t bear to read another page of the book I started yesterday, and it’s by a very well-known and successful author! Guess I’m not her target audience!

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  2. Wow, very hard question and I don’t think there is any hard and fast answer, but if the book is too strange and weird only because it suits the author, then perhaps the book isn’t one to be published?

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  3. I can sympathise with you here Alison and I look on in envy of those authors who know exactly who their target audience is and gear everything from covers to tweets in that direction. Robert Bevan is a perfect example. But I think when you write cross-genre stuff it is harder. Though I also read somewhere that you can have more than one ‘ideal reader’ and target tweets appropriately. A counter argument would be, why narrow your audience? I love reading a wide range of books and I’m sure others do too. Sorry, I know that’s not helping much at all, but I’m equally indecisive about all this.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post, Alison. When I write my YA fantasy I have a specific young person in mind as my target audience, but I also write the story I would love to read – and I’m twenty years older! With my non-fiction, I write it for my clients (35+), however, once my books are published all my audience research falls apart. I receive fabulous feedback on my YA fantasy from ladies in their 50s, and I’ve had a 13 year old tell me how much she enjoyed my non-fiction memoir! I still keep my target audience in mind, but I tend to write from the heart and let the words flow – someone will like it, even if it’s only my mum! 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I think it’s a combination of the two, with a nod to each of them but not too much of one! If you write solely with an audience in mind, you’ll probably just miss ticking all the boxes. If you write only the story you want, to the point of self-indulgence, you can narrow the audience down a great deal.

    As you know, my books don’t fit into any genre, and I have regular readers from ages mid 20s to over 60; they appeal to the ‘women’s fiction’ readers but lately I’ve been getting lots of sales from people who read dark, gritty, real life dramas – if you look at your ‘also boughts’ you can tell who they’re appealing to. I have only ever written the book I want to write; I think the marketing is more important when it comes to finding the target market. The cover, the blurb. Make it clear in the blurb what genre the book is. I’ve bought what I thought was serious women’s fiction before, only to find that it’s chick lit. Light historical romances that I thought were proper historical fiction. Choose for your 7 keywords on Amazon the categories you want your books to be placed in.

    I think the only authentic thing is to write the story you want to write – you should always write from the heart. Think of all your favourite books; do you think they were written with a target audience in mind? Of course you need to think about what will make the reader want to carry on turning the pages, but your readers will be varied, in ages and tastes. Different aspects of the book will appeal to each one.

    The internet is overflowing with advice articles on writing and marketing, as you know. Half of them contradict each other, and the other half have another agenda, ie wanting to draw you to their marketing plans. You’ll probably remember how about 4/5 years ago all these articles were telling you that writers ‘must’ have a blog, and post regularly, in order to sell their books. Everyone has now discovered that this is, mostly, rubbish; blogs build your online platform but do not make your books sell any more than a handful. Maybe this ‘aim for your target market’ advice will be off-trend in a few years’ time, too. Don’t forget, many marketing articles suggest the auto DM on Twitter…..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Terry. You first point is particularly spot on. Self-publishing has meant, to a degree, that a few writers have become pretty self-indulgent and don’t seem to think about a reader at all. On the other hand, some traditional publishers seem to have become so blinkered that they’re not prepared to risk anything even slightly different. As with everything I suppose, it’s a balance.

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  6. ps, suggest as keywords re what you’ve said: history, mythology, arts and artists (or whatever the category similar to this is), biography, and the name of the artist. There, that’s five!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I would say you should write the story you want to tell. No More Mulberries doesn’t fit into a specific genre, nor does it fit with what publishers think they (and their readers) know about life in Afghanistan. Too ‘quiet’ apparently. Had Miriam been trapped into marriage with a bad Afghan doctor and held against her will until rescued (possibly in a hail of bullets) by the handsome, western aid worker they’d have understood it. I didn’t want to write that story – and on the whole, readers seem to like the one I did write.
    Go with what your heart tells you. Afterwards, put on your marketing hat.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so grateful you didn’t write ‘that’ book. I just received my copy of No More Mulberries and can’t wait to get into it. Had you written about the hail off bullets you would have been in the pile of not getting past the first chapter. Now I know I’m going to love this book.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The Shadow said “who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men…” I’m sure he meant to say men and women, but I guess it would be less punchy (and possibly not appeal to his target readership). The point being, how can we really know what grabs people, what they want to hear, see and engage with? Possibly the reader doesn’t even know them selves until they get pulled into a work, so it isn’t going to pop up in a spreadsheet. There’s too much emphasis on chasing certainty in Art, to have formulas and research as it becomes more and more a business. The most interesting and engaging things are usually due to someone taking a risk or just doing it for themselves, because they had too. I know artists and writers need to make a living, but I’m not sure if that consideration should hold the whip hand over their own creative instincts.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I think its a delicate balance between what you want for your story, and what your potential audience wants. If you cater too much towards your potential audience, you may not enjoy writing the story you’re working on. But if you do whatever you want, you may lose sight of your readers. So, it is a combination of both, though at times, you’ll lean closer to one side than the other. I also think this question reflects the advice that says the first draft is for you, while your final draft is for your audience. As writers, we also have to be business-oriented since selling books is a business. So, keeping the audience in mind is important. But I agree that it can be hard to create the story you like that may not be easy to market.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. If I want to read someone’s book it is because I hope or believe they have written the best story they can. To do that honestly, it would be one that they had written for themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

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